Jonah from Tonga Controversy Leads to Global Outpouring of Love and Support for Tonga and Tongans


There is a global backlash against ABC Australia’s show Jonah from Tonga, with articles in the Washington Post, Huffington Post, The Guardian, Daily Mail, Sydney Morning Herald, New Zealand Herald, The Age, The New Daily, Deseret News, US TV news channel KSL and more all questioning its inaccurate downright racist portrayal of Tonga and Tongans.

Especially at first, before the US media picked up the story, the media in Australia and New Zealand described the backlash as concerns from the ‘Tongan community’ – essentially saying this is a limited issue. But one of the positive outcomes has been the enormous global outpouring of support for Tonga and Tongans from all over the world.

On twitter, support has come from a very wide range of people and now #JonahFromTonga has more negative comments than positive ones. Supporters of Tonga include African-Americans (who’ve been through all this before), the Latino American community (who’ve also been through all this before), some in the mainstream Australian media, the Chinese Canadian National Council (CCNC) (who’ve also…), Australian journalists, Maysoon Zayid, 18 Million Rising, the Native American Community (who also really know what this is all about), the Center for Asian American Media (CAAM) (ditto), and many, many more.

Blogs have also joined the appeal to HBO, including ones written by Latino Americans, gossip sites, and social justice blogs.

An online petition started to ask HBO in the US and Canada not to air the show received thousands of signature in a few days and is now at over 6,450 individual signatures (close to the population of Ha’apai). The range of support is clearly on show in the comments. Here is a small selection. Prepare to feel (even more) proud to be Tongan!

change petition

Shelly Shetler WICHITA, KANSAS
I spent 2.5 years serving in Tonga with the Peace Corps. Tonga is a nation of truly lovely people. They deserve to be treated with respect, not mockery.

William Tenney OREM, UTAH
I have a lot of Tongan friends and this is not how they are. They are God fearing, loving, respectful and pride themselves as being the friendliest people in the Pacific. Malie Tonga…

I am Samoan and I’ve seen the show. Totally agree with most of the
comments here. The show does not portray one bit of what Tongans
really are. Please pull the show!

I have met amazing Polynesian people. The people I know are hard workers, Christlike, and genuine people

The portrayal of the Tongan culture is creepy, offensive, and inaccurate. Also, the jokes suck. Real Tongans are funny.

Melissa Swingle DRAPER, UTAH
I am caucasian, but have spent time with Tongans in both California and Utah and this is just disgusting. Their culture is beautiful and their people are kind. They have taught me so much. It’s absolutely untrue and racist. It’s offensive beyond belief. Please remove this awful show from HBO.

I think there is a big difference between light-hearted comedy and what this show represents. Not one of Chris Lilley’s shows have made me laugh–they just perpetuate awful stereotypes that have nothing to do with what the culture is really like. The Tongans I know (especially my students), and respectful and friendly people who care about those around them. They deserve recognition for the wonderful people they really are.

It is a racist show that is disrespectful to a humble and conservative culture. I will never watch anything shown on that channel ever again in my life of they still choose to air the show.

Elizabeth Olsen PROVO, UTAH
This is stupid and racist. I have been able to live with many people from Tonga while I lived in Hawaii and they are amazing people with an amazing work ethic.

I’m Samoan and this clown is disrespecting my fellow Tongan brothers! Get this idiot off the air as he’s making them look bad!!

Please take this show off. I am not Tongan, but I have Tongan friends and they are nothing like this show depicts. This is offensive and I am surprised that it was ever approved. Tongans are the last people that deserve this mockery. Please, please, take the show off.

When I first saw this, I thought lets see. It is a very untasteful show. Very disrespectful, & I’ve never seen Tongans act like this. They are respectful to the females in there families… I couldn’t watch it for long. Very disturbing.

I laugh at sterotypes, but having grown up in a Tongan community, and then subsequently speaking with caucasians from Australia and New Zealand I have never heard of such bigotry that they portray towards pacific islanders. Theres a difference between comical sterotypes and this bigotry. As a white person who has seen this racism first hand i am disgusted by this shows idea….(im white as they come)

My husband is Tongan and I have visited the island many times and never have I once encountered someone rude, unpleasant, even unhappy. Tongan people share something called “island spirit”, no matter what religion you practice or with whom you were raised family comes first, friends are considered family, and strangers considered family. They share a love and care that you can LITERALLY find no where else. I love the people of Tonga wether still there or privileged to come to the states. It’s always bothered my the image that people hold of this culture because if they took a step into their lives and attempted to really get to know and understand these people they would be surprised to find how easy it is to fall in love with the Tongan people.

Mary Jarman SANDY, UTAH
I saw this on a friend’s Facebook feed, and as I read about the show, my stomach was in knots. I’m the mom of two internationally adopted children. One is Pacific Islander. I’ve lived in Pacific Island countries, and I’ve never see as much good in the hearts of human beings as I’ve seen in the hearts of Pacific Islanders. It’s sad that HBO 1) painted brown makeup and curly black hair on someone??? Really? 2) that we’re even having this conversation in 2014; 3) that the values of the Tongan community aren’t represented, even comedically; 4) that we’re even having this conversation… Really, HBO? 5) that a specific racial/ethnic group is having to defend themselves and educate the world about the amazing values people of Tongan descent put into the world; 6) again, we’re really having this conversation? 7) we all now know about Jonah from Tonga, because in a way HBO forced a Tongan community into action, which caused the rest of us to notice a show we otherwise wouldn’t have paid attention to… Are your ratings high enough yet, HBO? At what price? Did you get enough publicity out of this yet? I’ve never heard of the show, and I’ve seen more outcry against it in the last day than I have advertising of any television show. Sad. Put something good out into the world. Let your creativity make this world a better place.

I have brothers who have lived in both Australia and Fiji and through them I have become friends with several Pacific Islanders. I find this type of humor to be damaging to a specific population but perhaps more importantly, I find it damaging to society’s sense of civility. Please seriously reconsider your decision to air this programming.

Sepora Taufete’e LAVEEN, ARIZONA
Where is the preservation of culture? Where is the respect for each cultural community? Offensive does not compare to what this program is. I am not of Tongan descent but I am of Samoan descent – a sister nation to the Tonga nation. We are part of a close knit Polynesian network of cultures that share deep rooted values and morals. This is an insult to all of Polynesia. Please cancel/remove this distasteful depiction of such a beautiful culture.

Michael Dinsdale FARR WEST, UTAH
I have a great respect for the tongan community and their amazing faith and culture and I don’t want to see it be destroyed by some dumb show.

This poor attempt at humor is disrespectful to not only the Tongan people, but all Pacific Islanders. What they are doing is equivalent to “blackface”. If this was an American adult white actor portraying a black teenager in black face and afro wig the entire African American community and the ACLU would explode over this. This so called comedy is in poor taste and shows a family oriented community as thugs and gang-bangers.

For communities of color it can take one negative misrepresentation to define our whole community. What is reflected in media is often stereotypes that misguide judgement on communities of color. I refuse to watch this program which adds negativity to a whole community and generations to come. Characters in brown face acting out stereotypes is not what this country is about. I ask you to please not air this show, it’s demeaning.

Patty Reay OREM, UTAH
This can only have negative effects on youth in the Tongan community and will increase prejudice against Pacific islanders in General. I have many Tongan friends and don’t want to see them harmed this way.

My sister married a Tongan many years ago and I have many nieces and nephews of Tongan descent I don’t want them to be portrayed badly and especially made to look foolish by an ass in Brown face makeup.

Even though I am not Tongan, I am Pacific Islander. I know Pacific Islanders share some traditions and cultures, thus will affect how us (Pacific Islanders) are perceived globally. There have been research showing the impacts of stereotypes of groups. If this is aired for millions of people it will only confirm the stereotypes of Pacific Islanders, which will affect the development of us Islanders. It’s just not right to depict a race in such negativity through media.

The lead character isn’t even Tongan. Stick to Game of Thrones, none of that is real either, but at least everyone knows it.

For decades, Pacific Islanders have fought to overcome racist stereotypes and cultural appropriation. The exploitation and misrepresentation must stop! Please pull “Jonah from Tonga” from your lineup.

Kimberlee Innes ST. GEORGE, UTAH
This is degrading to Tongans everywhere. It sheds a negative light onto a
culture that is all about family. If this were a show about an African
American, played by a caucasian dressed in black face, the African
American community on up to the ACLU would be up in arms over it.
There is no difference.

Cydne Kamauoha LAIE, HAWAII
I have lived 35 years in a community with many Tongan families. I love and respect these families for the examples of love, respect, kindness, caring and selfless giving I see every day. To depict them otherwise would be a gross misrepresentation of who they are. Please pull Jonah from Tonga from HBO.

Christine Lavulo NORTH SALT LAKE, UTAH
Having children that are bi-racial and already have a hard time identifying with culture, and then they bring out something like this? It would be offensive even if my children weren’t Tongan, even if my husband weren’t Tongan, even if my in-laws weren’t Tongan and even if I didn’t grow up with Tongan friends. It’s not like it’s just some Tongan people making fun of themselves…this takes everything much too far!

Giving out the wrong message to our polynesian youth. We are not
underachievers. We are more than CONQUERERS.

Danielle Kamalu PROVO, UTAH
As a teacher in a high school with many different cultures, I see how hard polynesian students work toward changing the stereotype that has been put on them. This show will only bring them many steps back instead of improving and progressing. I only saw the trailer and am disgusted by what is being portrayed. Please don’t let this show go on.

As an educator and Pacific Islander, I have been heavily involved with the Polynesian community here in Southern California, and I am deeply concerned and disappointed in HBO’s scheduled airing of “Jonah from Tonga.” This show is not an accurate depiction of Tongan people, culture, or values, and will promote racism and negative stereotypes against all Pacific Islanders. There is no humor in that. This program’s premise is offensive on so many levels, and HBO should be ashamed.

I live in an area that is full of Tongan and Samoan people. I went to a school where we were pretty evenly mixed between white, pacific islanders and hispanics. I know many Tongans and this show sounds completely disrespectful and wrong. If this show is aired, it will give everyone a very biased and false impression of the wonderful Tongan people. I bet they had to get a white guy to play the main character because they couldn’t find a Tongan who wanted to participate in such a horrible show!

I’m not of Tongan descent, I’m Samoan but that is besides the point. As an islander born & raised this is very offensive. I’m an educated individual with a good career raised by goodly parents who were both educated and successful individuals. This portrayal of Polynesian descent is not we are. Yes there are those who breaks the law and have gotten in trouble but what race hasn’t? No one is perfect but this I know for sure for our Polynesian people. We are good natured, kind, humble, giving and God fearing. We were taught to be respectful always and treat others with the same courtesy. I may live state side but I raise my children to have the same values that defines us as Polynesians.

Why is racism ok? It isn’t!!!! He’s not Tongan. He’s not a “boy” of even close to it. He’s not portraying what the Tongan culture is really like. I’ve been married to a Polynesian for 30 yeaers and have many friends and relatives who are Tongan, Samoan, Tahitian, Hawaiian, etc. What is represented is not only wrong, it is derogatory and not funny, clever, or smart.

Angela Kroeger Waialua, HAWAII
I am from Hawaii, and I have had Tongan classmates and friends. This show is beyond wrong. I thought racism was over but HBO clearly is racist.

I know many Tongans, and other from the Island Nations. They are good people, and shouldn’t be maligned like this. No one should. Racism is never funny. It’s not something to “lighten up about” and think of it only as comedy. It is hurtful and damaging.

As a former Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga and the mother of half Tongan children, I have a fair amount of knowledge of the Tongan culture and way of life, none of which is depicted in this show. Americans could learn a lot from this culture which shows respect for their elders, teachers, parents, etc. which Americans at large sadly lack. As well, Tongans would NEVER do sexual innuendo in the presence of opposite sex, especially family members. Please learn from all the emails that are flooding you regarding this show. Malo ‘aupito.

I’m appalled at the egregious misrepresentation of Tongans. Tonga is known as the Friendly Islands for good reason. Like most Polynesian cultures, they are very family-oriented and respectful of others. They are God-fearing, hard-working people. As a fellow Pacific Island resident, I really resent what this show will do to the image of islanders in the U.S. This horrible show does a gross injustice to Tongans everywhere. Please don’t show it.

George Matavao WEST JORDAN, UTAH
I am a Samoan by birth but have married into the Tongan culture. We as a Polynesian people need to stick together regardless of which island our ancestors came from. I thought this show would be comedy that at least reflected some truth and astounding visuals of the islands of Tonga. My children would have benefited from this if the portrayal had some truth with a comedic twist. The writers just take this too far. It feels like it was written by someone from the outside looking in with a serious grudge for the Polynesian people. Especially for Tongans.

Having served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Kingdom of Tonga for 3 years, I find the content of this show offensive. Tongans are wonderful people who should not be ridiculed or presented in a bad light for the sake of bigoted comedy.

Tim Rowley OREM, UTAH
I have many friends that are Tongan and this is an affront to their culture. The producers obviously are using this as a format to fulfill some kind of juvenile vendetta

I am a full-blooded Samoan, and Tongans are the most similar/closest polynesians to ours, in culture, way of life, standards etc. I have Tongan family, half-Tongan nieces & nephews, as well as many Tongan friends and it offends me that the whole Tongan race is poorly portrayed and depicted in such an ignorant way. I would not want this to happen to my beautiful Samoan people, and especially not to our Tongan brothers & sisters! ~One Poly Love~

Michael Jones APO, AP
I grew up with polonesians in high school and this shows seems contrary to what they have worked hard for. And blackface, I thought that was over a long time ago.

Heidi Chipman BOISE, IDAHO
What is racism masked as comedy? RACISM. As a pacific islander with Tongan ancestors – I am offended the premise of this show. Mocking and belittling an ethnic group, using negative stereotypes, for the sake of “comedy” and entertainment — please don’t tell me that we’ve sunk that low in our society! The Tongan stereotype portrayed is not representative of Tongans I know – Tongans are kind, respectful and deeply religious. They deserve to be treated and portrayed with respect.

Sonny Maloy PAYSON, UTAH
I grew up with the Tongans, and Samoans and they are great people. This show is not doing any good for anyone.

Helen Teed IVINS, UTAH
This show perpetuates negative, racist stereotypes of Polynesians and will have detrimental effects on the Polynesian community. There’s already a huge lack of representation of Pacific Islanders throughout media. Polynesians rarely see a movie or glance at an advertisement and see accurate representations of themselves. This is yet another opportunity for white people to mock and humiliate people of color like they have done for centuries and it should not be tolerated.

I am against these lies. It was very stereotypical and racial of the director to even create such a series. I am not Tongan, but Samoan. Although i have met very many people whom are Tongan themselves. They arent anything close or even slightly similar to the series Jonah from Tonga. It breaks my heart knowing that there are still people out there bashing and disregarding the feelings and hearts that have been broken by this show. I do hope that we do receive justice and that it isnt passed as” just another case”. Please take notice of my people and help us overcome this nightmare.

Clayton Forsythe PROVO, UTAH
I am of Polynesian (Hawaiian) decent….I know the Tongan People, they are the “Gentle People” protraying a people that are hard working, God fearing, willing to earn their way to becoming a productive community the way HBO has with “fake actors” that obviously do not show Tongan features. Ridiculous, waste of time and truly sad

Chris Lilley dresses his racism up as comedy. This is an insult to Australia and to our Tongan community. Please do not present and reinforce these offensive stereotypes.

Carol Tuia-Johnson OREM, UTAH
This movie is not only a digrace to my Tongan family (I’m Samoan), but a digrace for all polynesians.

The main actor is not tongan. He is a white man in “Polynesian Black Face”. I’m a young african-american man & if they were making a show like this about young black kids acting like gangsters and the main character was in black face this would be a national outrage & would be blown up all over the news!

Ingrid Frengley-Vaipuna PATEA, NEW ZEALAND
As the mother of very high achieving, moral Tongan children and related to many wonderful Tongans. I taught in Tonga for five years – some of the cleverest and most wonderful students ever…why use one ‘immigrant example’ to mock a whole nation?

HBO you’re making a huge mistake. You’re not only going to get Tonga but the whole Pacific Islanders pissed off for disrespecting culture and tradition that you people obviously know nothing about!

Why does HBO find it necessary to produce a program that tries to get its entertainment value by portraying Tongans as disrespectful low achievers, who only know gang members or criminals; who are disrespectful to family members & teachers and sexually aggressive & suggestive to family members & a Nun; & whose only redeeming qualities are dancing & singing? You should check your facts on the Tongans, HBO! Tonga is a deeply religious country with 90% of its population affiliated with Christian Faith & they are Family-oriented. The Tongans are also well-educated, (98.9% are literate), & a high percentage of Tongans have achieved degrees in higher education…including Medical & Graduate degrees! Tonga has a Military Force who joined the Allies in the Coalition in Iraqi Conflicts; they sent troops who worked with the British ISAF in Afghanistan, & Tonga also sent troops & police with the Australian-led RAMSI force in the Solomon Island Bougainville conflict in Papua-New Guinea.

Tonga’s Rugby team has competed in at least 6 World Cup Events; their athlete won the Olympic Silver Medal in Boxing in the Summer Olympics in Atlanta in 1996, & in 2014 in Sochi, a man from Tonga finished 32nd in the Luge. Gee, HBO, I don’t know how you managed to miss all these FACTS about Tonga & its People…



2 Comments on Jonah from Tonga Controversy Leads to Global Outpouring of Love and Support for Tonga and Tongans

  1. Jack Couch // July 22, 2014 at 2:50 pm // Reply

    This “comedian” has already had shows on HBO. The first I know of was called “Springville High” or something like that (I only saw it a couple of times to confirm that it was totally offensive with no redeeming value). Then they spun off his privileged, rich, private schooled mean spirited, self absorbed High school mean girl, Jaime’. Jonah was in the original and repulsive to me even though I didn’t register that he was supposed to be Tongan. He has also done the same about gay men, portraying a gay male teacher who, of course, is the drama teacher and a five alarm Flamer. HBO would be wise to back away from Chris Lilley until he grows up or has the guts to do his act as stand up and taking responsibility for what he says as HIMSELF and not hiding behind his grotesque characters.
    This kind of mean spirited “comedy” is and always has been toxic to civilization. At least Archie Bunker was portrayed as a dying point of view fighting to cling to the past.

  2. Everyone who left a comment on here can eat a dick lol no sense of humor u think HBO would pull it if you don’t like it don’t watch it hello this is exactly what’s wrong with the world today HBO jonah is funny just like Kenny powers is funny …..

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